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Why is D.C. excluded from statehood?

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Dr. E. Faye Williams | 9/27/2019, 6 a.m.
Many years ago, I moved to the District of Columbia and became aware that people in D.C. were not accorded ...

Many years ago, I moved to the District of Columbia and became aware that people in D.C. were not accorded voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.

I won- dered how this could be when we’re American citizens. The right to representation is sacred.

I asked a lot of questions about our being denied representation. The most popular response was simply that we wouldn’t get statehood until a black person — meaning Marion Barry — was no longer head of our city and we were no longer a predominantly black city.

Well, those two “requirements” have been fulfilled, and D.C. still is not recognized as a state. I wonder what the holdup is. There seems to be a problem about being a majority Democratic city. Republicans didn’t want to allow the Democrats to get two more Democratic senators who most likely would vote in favor of statehood for Washington.

I am mindful that we couldn’t get the bill passed under either Republican or Democratic leaders. What’s next?

Since we never give up on what we believe we deserve, on Sept. 19, the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform held a historic hearing on D.C. Statehood and H.R. 51, the Washington D.C. Admission Act. This is the first vote taken on statehood in more than 25 years.

H.R. 51 has Democratic leadership support with 220 co-sponsors. That’s still not a majority of the House and not even a majority of the Democrats.

From the beginning, many members of Congress opposed D.C. statehood. Some directly, and others indirectly, said that D.C. was incapable of governing itself. Congress decided to treat us like slaves.

In the 1870s, a senator from Alabama said that stripping D.C. of our local governance rights had been done “to burn down the barn to get rid of the rats,” the rats being us and the barn being the government of the District of Columbia. About 100 years later, the District of Columbia was more than 70 percent African- American.

Rep. John Rarick of Louisiana, who was in Congress from 1967 to 1975, said that D.C. was a “sinkhole, rat infested, the laughing stock of the free and Communist world.” But he wasn’t finished. He said that allowing the District to govern itself could result in a Black Muslim “takeover” of the capital.

It seems that we have much of the same rhetoric today, but here’s what witnesses had to say at the recent hearing:

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives representing the District of Columbia, said, “There’s no doubt that the Washington, D.C. Admission Act is constitutional and the state would meet all of its financial, economic and other obligations. The 700,000 Americans living in the District of Columbia would be made whole.”

“D.C. residents are American citizens. They fight honorably to protect our nation....They pay taxes. Not many people know this, but D.C. pays more in total federal taxes than 22 states. It pays more per capita than any state in the nation. D.C. residents have all the responsibilities of citizenship, but they have no congressional voting rights and only limited self-government,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland.

“Finally, there’s but one conclusion — that D.C. military veterans have a fundamental right and earned benefit to have a voice in the election of those representatives who make our laws. Congress must now do the only right thing and stand up for our D.C. military veterans who have stood up for you,” said Kerwin E. Miller of D.C., a retired Naval Reserve commander.

There are plans to mark-up the bill in the coming months. You can help by ensuring that your member of Congress votes “Yes” on H.R. 51.

The writer is national president of the National Congress of Black Women.

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